Hannah Bryson (28), a Stage 3 Computer Science student is running for next year’s Students’ Union (SU) Education Officer. The Ulster native is running for the position “to challenge the way in which UCD is failing students from a huge range of different backgrounds.” As the founder of the UCD Disability Inclusion and Awareness Society (Diasoc), Bryson says she has suffered an unwillingness to engage from UCD supports on her disabilities, promising a “better system for disability support” as a core aspect of her mission.
The SU’s Education Officer deals with issues of academic interest, handles relevant student cases, sits on UCD’s Academic Council, provides careers supports to students and must organise at least two education-focussed campaigns during the year. We have interviewed Bryson and all other SU Election candidates, grilling them on their manifesto promises which can be found on social platforms online.
In Bryson’s manifesto, she proclaims that “UCD is failing students from a huge range of different backgrounds.” Poor student supports feature prominently in her election rhetoric. She criticises UCD’s lack of support for students with disabilities, mental health issues and financial difficulties. She says that students are often “pinballed” around, as staff often don’t want to deal with student issues. The Student Advisors, what I’ve found is they’re hit and miss for people. […] Students coming to me, from my personal experience, I would know where to send them and who would actually be able to sort the issue straight away.”
She also emphasises that module coordinators are not obliged by policy to supply supports for students with disabilities, suggesting this should change. “You then have some that are great and will bend over backwards to help you, and you’ll have others […] who will just be like: ‘Well it’s your problem, sort out your access issue.’ And you have to either argue with them or find a staff member to argue on your behalf. Having that experience, I can argue on students’ behalf. […] Not a lot of academics look at things from a student point of view, and that’s where the Education Officer can be so valuable, in that they can tell the academics and the deans what’s actually happening on the ground.”
She also details how she will help students in navigating Leave Of Absence requests. “Students almost need to know exactly what they’re asking. They need to know, ‘oh, I’m thinking of taking a Leave of Absence’, but if they don’t know what a Leave of Absence is, then they don’t know to ask that.” One of the criteria to take a Leave of Absence is discussing the details of the process, ensuring that the student is fully aware of the implications before committing. In response to this information, Bryson says: “If students don’t know the terminology it can be hard to communicate what it is would be best for them, sometimes.”
Established in 2019, UCD Anti-Casualisation is a group of UCD PhD students and precarious teaching staff concerned with their “casualised” working conditions. Bryson pledges to support this campaign, arguing that it comes within both the Graduate and Education Officer roles. She supports the campaign which garnered reportedly 1,000 signatures on a petition given to the University Management Team (UMT). Her support comes despite the UMT declaring they “reject any suggestion that that we are casualising our workforce.”
In February, the UMT made a highly controversial decision to further increase the on-campus rents in UCD by over 12% over the next three years. Following a protest in which petitions were handed to the UMT, the university rejected the demands, explaining: “proceeding with these developments will contribute to longer term rent stability and potential rent reductions, and that it is in the best interests of our community overall to proceed.” Bryson has pledged to continue the rent protests despite the university’s decision. We asked her what she would do to sway the UMT: “I would continue the protest. I would continue the pressure onto the government. I would continue to mention it in committee meetings. I think with the Covid it would be extremely irresponsible for them to [increase the rents] seen as though it looks like we are going to be going into a recession.”
When asked whether she believes the UMT will go back on their decision, Bryson responded: “I think if we put the pressure on, that they will realise that we won’t go away and that will mean that they actually have to listen to us. Where at the minute, I think they just think that we’ll just run out of steam.”
In her manifesto, Bryson promises a “discretionary fund for students in financial hardship.” She explains that students may avail of emergency funds, which will vary in amounts on a case by case basis. The funds are set to be taken from the SU’s annual charity fund. We asked her how many students will avail of the scheme, Bryson responds: “I mean I really couldn’t say,” she is looking at using a quarter of the SU’s charity fund, which she believes is about €30,000 to €40,000. “You’d hope with that money, that you could help, you know, about a thousand [students].” The funds raised by the SU for charity last year amounted to €18,352 with an additional €27,093.27 donated to Pieta House just from the ‘Darkness into Light’ fundraiser. This year’s projections for the SU are set roughly at €9,000, bearing in mind that this is the first year of the reintroduction of the Entertainments Officer (who leads the fundraising) and the year has been cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. She envisions there to be a “pot” of money for students to avail of if students need money for specific emergency needs. Explaining that students tend to require funds around mid-term, she hopes to “maybe have €2,000” to help three or four students. “The thing is, that helps three or four students stay in university.” That quarterly estimate places her figures far off her initial estimate of 1,000 students helped throughout the year.
Omitted from her manifesto are resit and repeat fees, which were reduced to €180 and €230 respectively, two years ago. Bryson says, “they’re far too expensive,” but explains that “it has been very clear from the university that they aren’t going to back down on that, and the income for them. And I think with the recession coming up from Covid, it’s going to be even harder to get them to back down on that.” When questioned why she didn’t have the same approach with the rents protest, in which the university also holds a firm stance on, Bryson explains: “it is so much easier to get them to change their planned income than income that they already have.” She says that students need to focus on getting the on-campus rent costs frozen, and then tackle topics such as repeat and resit fees. Darryl Horan, the other UCD student contesting the Education Officer position has outlined in his manifesto an intention to remove resit and repeat fees in UCD.
Bryson says that current Education Officer Brian Treacy is brilliant in the case work and committee work he has done, but Treacy was rarely well-known to students. “I think that he has put himself on far too [many] committees this year.” Elaborating that he’s put himself on committees that “aren’t really going to get much done because committees are very slow.” She thinks that students should get to know the officers that they have elected. “With Brian Treacy, I think he got a little bit too stressed out with the committee work, you just don’t see him anywhere.” She emphasised that he is talked of highly and is very hard-working, but she aims to be more accessible to students.
Although she intends to do press interviews and run an online campaign, she is sceptical about running a campaign in the absence of a physical presence on campus. “I’ve even heard Joanna [Siewierska] say that she won because [of] her lecture addresses.”
Bryson also emphasises that both Education Officer candidates this year are Co-Chairs of the student activist group ‘Fix Our Education.’ So, whether Darryl Horan or Hannah Bryson comes out on top, we will likely be getting an SU Sabbatical Officer prepared to protest the reported “commercialisation” of UCD.
Conor Capplis – Editor